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The issue of long wait times for U.S. visas, particularly for Indian applicants, stands out amidst the overall increase in U.S. visa applications and issuances.

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Demand for U.S. visas from Indian travelers are at record highs. But 500-day wait times or longer continue to hinder travel to the U.S.  

The State Department confirmed the record-breaking issuance of over 140,000 student visas to Indians. The U.S. embassy and consulates in India said they issued nearly 8 million visitor visas for business and tourism for the recent fiscal year. This is the highest output recorded since 2016. A near-historic 10.4 million non-immigrant visas were granted worldwide.     

India is not alone in its visa dilemma. Wait times for first-time visitor visas in Colombia and Mexico are equally high. The U.S. Travel Association forecasts these delays will cost the industry $12 billion in lost traveler spending this year.

The U.S. State Department has introduced measures to address visa backlogs like waiving interview requirements and extending weekend interviews. Yet, the wait times for visa processing have only been reduced by 100 days for Indian travelers, down from 600 days in March.

Key Source Market: In the first six months of 2023, over 800,000 Indian travelers went to the U.S., making it America’s second-largest non-North American market after the UK this year.

Indian Travel Recovery to the U.S.: For 2023, the U.S. is expected to welcome 1.4 million Indian travelers, 97% of the pre-pandemic volume. Nearly 60% of Indian travelers came to the U.S. for vacation, business, or a conference in the first six months of this year.

Sri Lanka’s Free Tourist Visas Pilot Begins

Closer to home, Sri Lanka’s pilot project to offer free 30-day visas to Indian travelers, announced at the end of October, kicked off on Wednesday, and will run until March 31, 2024. 

It is the latest country after Thailand and Malaysia to join in offering easier access for Indians.

Sri Lanka’s Tourism Recovery: India is traditionally Sri Lanka’s top inbound tourism market. In October 2023, arrival figures for India topped with over 28,000 or 26 percent with Russian tourists trailing at over 10,000 arrivals as the second largest group. The free tourist visa pilot includes India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry endured a severe blow due to the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by an economic crisis last year. The country welcomed 1 million arrivals by September, the first time since 2019, with the island nation expected to conclude the year with 1.5 million arrivals. 

UNWTO Selects Madhya Pradesh’s Madla for Village Upgrade Program

Madla village, located on the outskirts of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, has been chosen by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) for its tourist village upgrade program

Initially selected as a UNWTO ‘Best Tourism Village’ for 2023, Madla has now qualified to join the upgrade program, meeting the criteria of preserving local culture and promoting diversity.  

IndiGo Sets Visual Flight Rules Milestone at Deoghar Airport

IndiGo will be the first airline to operate flights with visibility as low as 3,600 meters for Airbus and 3,200 meters for ATR fleet at Deoghar Airport. 

Poor Seasonal Visibility: Visual flight rules (VFR) at Deoghar Airport were limited to daylight hours with a visibility requirement of 5,000 meters. The low-cost carrier applied for civil aviation approval for special VFR operations at the airport, as poor visibility above 5000 meters during the winter led to many flight cancellations.

Less Disruption: Deoghar Airport is a hub in the eastern sector of India, connecting the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. IndiGo’s successful flight validation for special VFR operations will reduce disruptions, especially those caused by adverse weather conditions in winter.

EaseMyTrip Launches ‘Explore Bharat’ Travel Program

Online travel agency’s new travel program, “Explore Bharat- Discover the Soul of India,” wants to showcase India to international travelers. 

The program will offer curated tour packages for heritage, culture, history, and architecture experiences, from the royal palaces of Rajasthan to Kerala’s serene backwaters. 

According to CEO and Co-founder Nishant Pitti, the OTA wants to take travelers deeper into India’s tourism offering by providing tailor-made itineraries, including luxurious amenities and premium lodging and transportation. 

Kashmir’s Wular Lake Pegged for Homestay, Rural Tourism Development  

Wular Lake is set to be developed into a  prime tourism destination for travelers to Jammu and Kashmir. 

The lake, ranked as the second-largest freshwater lake in Asia, is a significant drawcard for rural tourism, according to Secretary of Tourism Dr Syed Abid Rasheed Shah. Development will focus on homestays and cultural heritage tourism activities in the Bandipora district.

Wular Lake Highlights:

  • Geographical Significance: Wular Lake, situated at the foothills of Haramuk Mountain, spans an impressive area of 200 square km, with a length of 24 km and a breadth of 10km. 
  • Historical Touch: The lake’s main water source is the renowned River Jhelum, adding to its historical and cultural significance. Notably, Wular Lake boasts a small island called ‘Zaina Lank,’ constructed by King Zainul-Abi-Din, contributing to the area’s rich heritage.
  • Mythical Connection: Believed to be a remnant of the ancient Satisar Lake, Wular Lake is steeped in myths and legends. The lake’s surroundings also serve as a popular sunset point for visitors.

Skyscanner’s Astrology Survey Uncovers Travelers’ Cosmic Choices

Skyscanner’s latest survey data highlights the intersection of star signs and wanderlust, offering insights into how Indians plan their journeys based on the stars.  

Astrology and Travel Choices:

  • 88% of Indians believe in astrology, influencing crucial life decisions, including travel choices.
  • Over 70% of Indian travelers are guided by their taste buds. Aquarians leading the pack as food enthusiasts, with 93% prioritizing a destination solely for its cuisine.

Cultural Calling and Fashion Trends:

  • More than half of Indian travelers base their holiday plans on cultural factors, including popular films and fashion trends.
  • 55% of Capricorns prefer destinations featured in their favorite films or shows
  • 74% of fashion-forward Sagittarians bring runway looks to the flight runway during their trips.

Traveler Psyche:

  • 50% of Virgo travelers prefer well-organized itineraries with planned activities and some free time.
  • 48% of Scorpios experience increased anxiety while flying.

Additional Survey Findings:

  • Love Locations: 53% of Indians travel in pursuit of love, with recommendations for Capricorns, Libras, and Aries to connect, as more than half are looking for future partners during their expeditions.
  • Beach Adventures: Over 55% of Indians actively seek adventure while traveling, with Leos, Capricorns, and Scorpios being the true aquaholics, preferring holidays by the bay.
  • Red Eye Chasers: Cancerians are early risers, with more than half (57%) preferring flights between 12 AM and 6 AM, offering reduced prices.  

Skift India Report

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Tags: easemytrip, indigo, kashmir, mumbai, rural tourism, skyscanner, sri lanka, state department, unwto, US Travel Association, visa

Photo credit: Indians are hopeful that more help from U.S. consular officers will help expedite visa delays and allow them to travel more freely. Ankabala / Getty Images

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